Friday, November 4, 2011

Pellatarrum: Broken River 5

(Editor's note: the lateness of the Broken River series is entirely my fault. I was sick for a large chunk of October, and had little desire to proofread Mike's articles... or do much of anything, really. )

Broken River
Part 5: Kobold House
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis

In this article, we start weaving the disparate threads together, in the form of Kobold House. As mentioned, each nonhuman race has a maximum of a dozen members. Eight of the kobolds in Broken River live in Kobold House; the kobold outcast (yes, kobolds have outcasts too) resides at the Grey Shovel, a boarding house/tavern on the "dirty side" of town. But let's cover Kobold House first.

Kobold House
It is no secret that kobolds are the most loyal, most devoted, and most obvious servants of the dragons. Part of the kobold reputation as devious, backstabbing, trap-making, child-stealing, poison-using murderers comes from this devotion, so that when kobolds are seen, most folk see only their masters. Dragons, who are known for sometimes eating their foes, are feared and not well-liked.  The rest comes from them being murderous, backstabbing, devious trap-makers who steal children and like using poison.

One hundred and twenty years ago (several generations), there was a pogrom against the two kobold tribes of the town. It may have had something to do with a stable burning down where the two tribes squared off against each other and some visiting goblins. Or the fact that one of their chieftains had (allegedly) taken to wearing the skins of townsfolk. Or that the other had (reputedly) eaten a gnomish child alive. Whatever the reason, the commoners decided to have two words with the kobolds: lynch mob.

Their numbers depleted by back-alley fights, poisonings, and other shenanigans to which rival kobold tribes are prone, and with both chieftains dead or dying, the remaining kobolds did the unthinkable: they trusted their enemies. The remnants of the rival tribes agreed to put their feud on hold until the troubles passed, and took shelter under the floorboards of an abandoned building. 

That alliance remains to this day. The kobolds were hopelessly cross-bred within the first generation, and every member of the current tribe professes to serve both dragons (neither of whom actually reside within Broken River). Although Kobold House has the resources to support double the number of adults, the number of secret allegiances, mistaken poisoning of allies, deliberate poisoning of enemies, attacks by their children (who rightly think they are abused), and the other uncertainties of life keep their actual numbers where they are. This confusion is compounded by their current chief, whose name in Common is rendered as Summoner-of-the-Greatest-of-Dragons (yes, he's our level 2 summoner). Please observe how there is no qualifier given as to which dragon is actually the greatest; this is deliberate. 

The inhabitants of Kobold House serve both the Brilliant Dragon and the Shadow Dragon (see below) in that they ostensibly follow the will of and advance the agendas of their twin masters. However, the Dark has a greater hold on these kobolds than the Light, as the politics of Kobold House is a tortuous, labyrinthine thing of deception, double bluffs, and triple agents. The kobolds are so wrapped up in pretending to serve and yet not serve both dragons that it is likely they themselves either don't know, don't care, or are actually insane (even by kobold standards). Their chieftain actually is insane with a complex form of Air Disorder: he has at least two personalities, each of which fervently believes it loyally serves only one master and feigning obedience while plotting the overthrow of the other. 

One kobold,  a level 1 expert known only to townsfolk as "Grippi," lives well away from Kobold House and has decreed that he will not knowingly serve either dragon. As a consequence, he is generally unemployed and otherwise miserable, but at least he's sane.

Why Grippi?
Grippi the Outcast has been a popular NPC in most of my campaigns. The out of work "monster", hated by even his own people, pulls at the heart strings, and Grippi has made a wonderful henchman and accomplice for several players. When I knew that the kobolds of Broken River were just insane, I knew that Grippi, the last sane NPC kobold in Broken River, had to be in attendance.

He provides the "half rogue" that many parties need to pick locks and disarm traps, without being so awesome that he overshadows the PCs. His natural humility, knowledge that nobody else is showing him kindness, and kobold tendancy to worship his "boss" also plays to the PCs as the center of the action. And he's willing to work on the cheap...

The Dark Dragon
When people in Broken River complain about "the dragon", they're complaining about Doomwing Dark-Drake, the black (acid) dragon who lives somewhere in the river delta. Although he's known to have ties to piracy, he doesn't permit it to affect "his" infestation of humans. Also, he is still bound by ancient contracts with the halflings and sea elves to keep the river clear of pirates between Broken River and the sea.

Doomwing won his contest with his rival for this territory by a daring (reckless) mid-air collision, followed by a plunge into a swamp lake (rumored to be his main lair) and a near-drowning. Recently, he has stopped recruiting kobolds (although he still keeps a few hundred around) in favor of a once-small tribe of lizard men. The "dragon tax" they collect at night has become obnoxious to the sheep farmers of Broken River's southern regions.

Doomwing is an avid collector of pottery, fine china, and flatware. His crowning treasure is a teapot of huge size, enchanted to heat its own water. Visitors normally contact him through the lizard men, and he meets with them in the main square of their village deep within the swamp.

Nobody knows (beyond piracy and smuggling) what Doomwing's ploys are, which leads locals to associate him with the Temple of the Dark.

The Brilliant Dragon
Songmoon River-Dance, commonly called the Brilliant Dragon by kobolds, is a green (sonic) dragon not local to Broken River. She lives far, far to the northeast, on the other side of the Orclands (local orc lands, not the global region, which is much larger and a nation in its own right). Her interest is in Imperial (regional human) affairs, of which Broken River is only a small part. Before Bracken River became Broken River, it was of no interest to her; whether she employs, supports, or opposes Seamus Gantry (7th level commoner, imperial clerk) is unknown at this time.

She moved into her territory when her mentor died due to a few (hundred) fussy humans, who only complained about how many of them he was eating for a few years before gathering in an army, besieging him in his lair, and killing him. After the usual squabbles with other contenders (none of whom died), she has stepped into his shoes gracefully, and added his ploys to her own.

Songmoon owns a number of palaces, but is partial to one maintained by an outcast clan of dwarves. She is far too busy to bother directly with Broken River (for now), but has sent a number of agents to actively recruit. As trade between Broken River and the Sea Elves increases in importance to the Imperium, so will Songmoon's interest in "local" affairs.

Songmoon used to collect music, a passion that she continues by habit more than interest. Her new obsession is that of her former mentor: collecting blackmailed and bribed Imperial officials. Whether she has footholds in Broken River's corrupt government (which we'll get to in a later article) is up to the GM.

Songmoon is a passionate supporter of the Church of Light. Rumors that she is sponsor of the heretical Children of the Sun are lies. Scandalous, scandalous lies, spread by her detractors. You know because Songmoon River-Dance says so. No dragon would ever lie to you, right?

PC Kobolds
I know what you're asking. Why would a PC kobold want to live at Kobold House? 

They shouldn't. Kobolds, by design, should feel out of place in Broken River. They should make perception checks to notice that crazy cat lady is signaling them. The watch keeps tabs on them, and follows them in that way humans call discreet. And those that do want to live with crazy, deceptive, lying poisoners and trap-makers? Let them - they're playing KOBOLDS!

Class Training
Obviously, Summoner himself can train summoners, although both (or all) of his personalities will feel challenged by an acolyte who summons a draconic-looking eidolon.

Although none of the kobolds possess rogue levels, even Grippi the Outcast has enough experience in Craft (Traps) to train rogues and/or rangers. Many kobolds also possess ranks in Sneak, Survival, Craft (Poison), Sleight of Hand, and other skills of dubious morality.

I had originally thought of giving one of the kobolds levels in alchemist, but honestly – it has more reason to be elsewhere, so it is. This isn't to say that Kobold House doesn't have a modest store of alchemical fire (and other alchemical nastiness), for it does. But none of them have the actual alchemist class.

Why No Rogues?
I was really pressed to put three other classes into Kobold House: rogues, experts, and alchemists, in that order of priority. And nothing prevents you from doing so, if you feel it aids the feel of the town for your players. But summoners are rare, and the best summoner in town is a kobold.

The kobolds are quite able to provide for all things koboldish without tapping any of these classes – so I didn't. This isn't just so that Summoner shines; this is so the PCs have a chance to shine. That, and realizing the alchemist would spend most of his time in a straightjacket for the safety of Kobold House.

I'll explain. First level characters are actually fairly common in Broken River, due to the number of classes we need to cover and the fact that I believe in backups for when half the town gets burned down because both sorcerers in the party feel the need to play with fireballs while the rogue and fighter compete to see how many fireman helmets (complete with head) they can collect tonight.

But, my own bad players aside, look at the ethos of "One in a hundred becomes a successful adventurer." That means about twelve in all of Broken River. This is actually achieved at second or third level, depending whether you like rounding up or down. Since Broken River is intended as a basic starting area (levels 1-5), this fits fairly well. And second level isn't that hard to get to – provided you don't do silly things like the above contest.

But even though first level is "not that special", there is no reason to bury the rogue PC in a world of rogue NPCs. If every halfling, goblin, and kobold is a rogue, then the question rapidly becomes "Why are you, a PC,  worth a share of treasure? Hey, guys, let's just hire that rat-catcher guy for seven silver a month. I'll bet he knows how to disarm traps."

And this is just the wrong sort of question for players to be asking each other.

Yes, options. I once read a Shadowrun book (stay awake, this becomes relevant) that presented options, rather than cold hard facts about places. This allowed the twin objectives of keeping the players in discovery mode (even if they had the book) and allowing the GM to customize their world. So without further ado, let's jump in.

Loyalty options:
  • The kobolds honestly attempt to serve both dragons. 
  • The kobolds are paranoid and insane, abandoned by both dragons.
  • The kobolds just try to survive, following whichever dragon their "chief" supports at the moment. 
  • Each kobold knows which dragon they serve, but doesn't trust anyone else in the tribe. 
  • The kobolds are fed up with the paranoia, and don't serve either dragon – but they can't pretend to be anything but fanatical with all these other fanatical dragon lovers around them.

Chieftan options:
  • He's insane, as written. 
  • He's playing the tribal loyalties against each other to winnow out competition for chief. 
  • He's playing tribal loyalties to ensure only the strongest survive. 
  • He hates both dragons, and is playing the tribe against itself to ensure neither dragon gets utility out of his kobolds.
  • He actually serves a third, undocumented dragon, and is trying to frustrate the tribe into leaving.
  • Optional Archetypes: If using optional class templates, Summoner is an ideal candidate for being a Synthesist (Ultimate Magic, p80). In this case, the option that he intends to become a dragon is also an option.
  • Basic Rules: Some groups just like playing with the absolute basics. In this case, replace Summoner with Sorcerer (Dragon), perhaps with the intention of making the draconic transformation.

Grippi Options: 
  • He wants to be an adventurer. 
  • He's a plant by the chieftain to test loyalty of the tribe members.
  • He wants to be a rogue. 
  • He's under secret orders from (he thinks) one or another dragon. 
  • He's snapped, and thinks he's under orders from a dragon. 
  • He's done with dragons, and paranoia, and just wants to make a living as a commoner.

Notice that none of the above option clusters are exclusive, and the indicators overlap. And absolutely nothing keeps you from replacing my "lame" options with your own. In fact, feel free to – it keeps your players guessing, and keeps the feeling of exploration/discovery alive. And that's the whole point of having options.

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